At the end of the last Pirates of the Caribbean film in 2007, we last saw Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) missing his ship, the Black Pearl – but with a special map that would lead to the Fountain of Youth. In Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, the race is on to see who can find the Fountain first: the Spanish, the English, or dread pirate Blackbeard. On the English side, Sparrow is hired by King George II (Richard Griffiths) to guide an expedition to find the Fountain, led by rival Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), who is now missing a leg. But soon Sparrow reunites with Angelica (Penelope Cruz), his former lover – and daughter to Blackbeard (Ian McShane) – and is soon captured by Blackbeard and forced to help him find two chalices related to the Fountain. In the process, we encounter Philip (Sam Claflin), a missionary captured by Blackbeard, and a mermaid Syrena (Àstrid Bergès-Frisbey) whose tear is needed in one of the chalices for the Fountain to properly work. But soon it is revealed that everyone has ulterior motives for wanting to find the Fountain, and former enemies might have to team up to prevent a greater threat.
Directed by Chicago and Memoirs of a Geisha‘s Rob Marshall, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides feels more like a dead fish compared to the previous outings, and lacks the fun spirit of the original film: this is certainly the low point of the series. It’s hard to fault McShane, who does the best with the material he’s given, but Depp feels like he’s phoning it in, only occasionally giving us the playful spark that made his character so entertaining. Penelope Cruz tries her best to be sultry, and the always excellent Geoffrey Rush gives a new twist to Barbossa, so that’s not all half-bad. The problem comes from the unnecessary side stories that weigh down the plot, the attempt at a romantic element between Philip and Syrena that falls flat on its face, and a director that was clearly out of his element. You know there’s a problem when the film’s big action set-pieces don’t spark any adrenaline or sense of excitement, no matter how well choreographed they may be. There is one sequence in particular that stood out for me – the mermaid cove. Here, the tension, the visual effects, the action, and Hans Zimmer’s frenetic score all came together to work in that “special” Pirates way. But other than that, the film just didn’t hold together for me. Another part of the problem might have been that the film was adapted from a novel, On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers, and in an effort to force the square peg of the novel into the round hole of the Pirates universe, things probably got a bit lost-in-translation.
Sluggish and bloated, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides has some entertaining moments, but in the end, falls flat. It’s not worth seeing in theaters (or paying the premium for 3D) – rather, you should just rent it. But that presumes you have an interest in seeing Jack Sparrow’s latest (although probably not last) adventure at all.